What is Love?

According to a BBC News article, published 17 December 2013, the top Google searches of last year were “Facebook” and “What is love?” With statistics like that, there’s no debating we humans have a great need for friendship and to experience love. “What are we if we’re not in love?” sings Jon Foreman in his song The Moon is a Magnet, and so, artfully exposes that love is indeed to be counted among other drugs. We’ll do most anything to get it, have it, and/or stay in it. Yet, the Google search results reveal most people may not understand love; and what is more, perhaps it is not working for them. Will a kiss betray us all?

In Plato’s Symposiumthe ancient philosopher writes, “He whom love touches not walks in darkness.” This is a true saying. Love is a light that can fill our hearts with hope and resonance, with youthful vigor, belonging and companionship.

“Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” [One believes he will find fulfillment in meeting his complement, his soul’s mate.] “…and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, … the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment…” –Plato, Symposium (brackets mine)

Then, as time goes on (about 2 years by author Gary Chapman’s research–if the love was more than infatuation) we have come to know our other half as much as is intriguing and biologically stimulating. At this point, if one has not realized that love is more than attraction or meeting of one’s own desires, he has altogether failed to discover the meaning of love. There are many types of love. Without understanding these types of love, one cannot possibly comprehend, much less recognize “true love” and give it to others.

While romantics say love is passion and one cannot choose whom he loves, C. S. Lewis, ancient Greek thought and the Christian Bible hold that love is more complex and more ordered than the chaos of rampant feelings. In his book, Four Loves, C. S. Lewis expounds another rung of Ancient Greek thought which posits love can be affection (Storge), or friendship (Philia), or eros (the erotic) or charity (Agape), or any combination of these. Yet, a healthy complex of love will place Agape love above them all, seeing that agape is one’s selfless devotion to meeting the needs of another, especially before one’s own needs. This is the noblest of all loves.

There are certain relationships in which eros is not appropriate. There are other relationships wherein Philia, Storge and Agape should be the priority before eros is expressed. In whatever case, if agape is exercised, then the other 3 loves fall into their respective places and stay secure. If not, all becomes a jumbled, tragic mess. These limitations and patterns are the rationale of true love and keep us from hurting one another. In that way, love is a choice… or rather, a commitment to do right by another and put them before your own needs and desires, because you view them as worthy of more honor than yourself. (Mark 12:28-34; Rom 13:8-10; Phil. 2:3) To be accepting and forgiving is another expression of agape love. Without forgiveness and trust, one cannot develop any relationship. Where agape is neglected or abused, forgiveness is tried and trust is broken. However, where agape is exercised, “love covers a multitude of offenses” (1 Pet. 4:8).

But what about one’s loving himself? Some have said that one cannot love others if he does not love himself. There is some truth in the statement, but to answer more fully C. S. Lewis writes,  [quotes from GoodReads.com, underscore mine]

“You are told to love your neighbour as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to be hanged. You may even think that you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

Though Mr. Lewis speaks truth and while we can exercise love well in some instances, we cannot perfectly maintain agape love in every moment. All offenses are but a revelation that we have failed to extend agape love or receive agape love… even though we might have wanted to. What can be said to this contradiction but that something within us is broken. Again, I invoke Plato when he writes, “Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” We seek wholeness in others and from others, but we do not find it in them. Other humans cannot possibly bring us absolute wholeness, since we are each of us flawed. Observation bears out that pure, untainted love (as a concept) does not originate from within humanity, though it finds its muddied playground within our hearts and, as seen above, can be either well used or misused.

So, if we notice love and even practice it, though poorly, then let us also trace it to the Source. For, if we find the the Source of love, then we our selves may be cured. I am not alone in thinking this, as the Symposium affirms it. Love is itself a virtue, a beauty of existence. According to Plato’s Ladder of Love, we first see beauty in those around us; and so, we have “the desire for the everlasting possession of the good” represented in that beauty (Symposium, 204, B). Secondly, we go on from the love of beautiful bodies to the love of all physical beauty found in nature. Then we look to beautiful habits and institutions, and afterward to beautiful doctrines (teachings, philosophies, Truth). And eventually, we look to the “supreme beauty itself,”

“But if it were given to man to gaze on beauty’s very self–unsullied, unalloyed, and freed from the mortal taint that haunts the frailer loveliness of flesh and blood–if, I say, it were given to man to see the heavenly beauty face to face, would you call his, she asked me, an unenviable life, whose eyes had been opened to the vision, and who had gazed upon it in true contemplation until it had become his own forever? And remember, she said, that it is when he looks upon beauty’s visible presentment, and only then, that a man will be quickened with the true, and not the seeming, virtue–for it is virtue’s self that quickens him, not virtue’s semblance. And when he has brought forth and reared this perfect virtue, he shall be called the friend of god, and if ever it is given to man to put on immortality, it shall be given to him” (Symposium 210a-212b).

Therefore I declare to you, dear reader, the Supreme Beauty. “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). And, God is not far off or distant or one who merely says he loves. God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If you recognize your love is broken and that you have broken others with your lack. If you know that you neither love God nor neighbor with Agape love always, then you are not far from gazing into Love face to face and being consequently lit by His light; if you will come to God through faith in His own Son (Jesus Christ), then you will put on the eternal life He alone can give. It shall be given to you as a gift, and you shall be called the friend of God through the reconciliation God provided by His suffering, and your soul will be regenerated through receiving Him (John 3:16, 14:6; Rom. 5:6-11; Heb. 1:1-4; 1 John 4:16). In short, you finally will be made complete in Him, who is the embodied fullness of the Godhead (Col. 2:8-10); your search for love will be over. Christ, crucified on our behalf and raised from the grave is the completion of love.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)






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